I’m the full-time caregiver to my 102-year old mother and have been for nearly nine years. Yesterday I mentioned to a neighbour that my mom is officially at “end of life” and receiving palliative care. I was a little fragile as I said it.
Wryly and with a bit of an eye roll, he replied, “Well, how old is your mom…”
Besides the obvious insensitivity of this reaction, it nevertheless revealed an underlying sentiment that some people, even compassionate ones, share. That is – once someone reaches a certain age, what do you expect?
Plus, they’ve led a full life so how sad can it be?
This exchange stayed with me. For that reason, I’d like to share some insights that might raise awareness concerning the passing of an elder, as well as its effect on a caregiver.
“Well, how old IS your mom…”
1) There’s something magical about people who beat the odds. When they die, that magic dies with them. It’s sad.
2) A predictable death is a death nonetheless. It hurts.
3) Loved ones aren’t numbers. When my mom dies, I’ll have lost my mom not my 102-year old mom.
4) When you’re a caregiver to a seriously ill loved one, you lose your life. When they die, you lose theirs too. There’s a deep emptiness where love, devotion and purpose once were housed. It’s called “caregiver’s grief”.
The death may be predictable, but the pain isn’t something you can prepare for.
5) Generally speaking, people don’t die easily. In the past month, my usually good-natured mom has yelled at me in the middle of the night, gone back to sleep, then yelled some more. She’s tried to get up and walk without help. She’s talked to people on the ceiling. She’s had fevers, deep fatigue and loss of function.
She’s bounced back every time while I’ve died a little every time.
If someone says, “My mom is at end stage”, don’t say, “Well, how old is your mom…” with a wry tone and an eye roll because I’ve watched enough Sopranos to know how to get rid of a body – and I don’t mean my mother’s.
My mom is 102 years old. She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and given weeks to live, maybe months. She moved into my one-bedroom apartment to spend her final days under my care.
That was eight years ago.
The other day, a friend of mine lamented I was lucky to still have her given that her own mother died at 60 years old. I’ve had other friends share the same sentiment.
I’m lucky, they say.
I miss the mother I had at sixty, seventy, eighty, even ninety
But, here’s the thing – I too miss my mom. I miss the mother I had at sixty, seventy, eighty, even ninety. I miss the days prior to commodes, dentures, adult diapers. I miss the smell of fresh baked cookies, strong hugs and quick wit. I miss when she knew how to answer a phone or even a question.
Like you, I miss my mom.
My mom isn’t the mother my friends look back on with longing. Nor is she the mother I look back on with longing. She’s the remarkable woman I have now. I love her. I respect her. I’m privileged and honoured that I’ve been entrusted with this important responsibility.
But I’m not lucky. At least, not in the romanticized, wistful way that my friends envision.
The days of birthday cakes, egg salad sandwiches served warm and a comforting bowl of soup are over. My mom can no longer make a cup of tea or even pour herself a glass of water. It’s been years since she’s been in a kitchen. She can’t let go of her walker long enough to open a fridge, nor does she have the strength to do so.
In addition, she’s lost some of the cognitive function needed to follow a recipe. Even putting on sweater the right way escapes her.
I miss the days of her martinis with extra olives
I miss our restaurant outings and her martinis with “extra olives” that she’d order – and actually send back – if they weren’t made with vermouth. Nowadays everything has to be watched from her sodium levels (which limits most hot dishes) to her potassium levels (green leafy salads are out). Simple dishes are a challenge.
The last time we went to a restaurant was to celebrate my birthday. We arrived at 4 p.m. hoping to have an early dinner. We were gone by 4:30. The effort it took to get my mom dressed and over to the restaurant wiped her out.
I had one wine. She had one Shirley Temple. Then I took her home, made her dinner, and helped her to bed. I ate alone later. That was it. That was my big night out. Not quite the experience my friends reminisce about.
We don’t sit around chatting over drinks anymore either. She can’t tolerate alcohol. I sent her a sympathy card about it for fun. The cover of the card said sorry for your loss and, inside, I wrote, “I know how much alcohol meant to you. Sending my heartfelt condolences”.
We had a good laugh. But, by the next day, she forgot all about it and, by dinnertime, she forgot that she couldn’t drink.
I ended up serving her white grape juice and telling her it was wine. I’ve been doing that ever since. I’m not trying to trick her. I just want her to keep enjoying the experience.
Mother and daughter talks are not what they were
My mom had her Master’s degree in social work. She was considered a pioneer by many for some of the initiatives she implemented in her field. I could go to her for insight on friends, lovers, employers. She had a talent for understanding core aspects of personalities and what motivated them. I loved talking with her about relationships of every kind.
I learned so much from her.
My friends tell me they miss their mother and daughter talks. Well, guess what? I do too. Here’s how ours play out not once, not twice, but a few times a day:
“One, two, three, up. Do you feel safe? Okay then walk. Hold onto your walker. Stay with your walker. Put your hand here, put the other hand there. Do you feel safe? Okay, I’m lowering your underwear. Now you can sit. Here’s the toilet paper, here are the hand wipes. Are you finished? Did you wipe? Okay, one, two, three. Wait until I have your underwear up. Okay, hold onto your walker”.
That’s just the toilet. Other conversations go like this: “Drink your water. Don’t take out your hearing aids. Put on your glasses, okay? Do you need to go the bathroom? Do you want heat on your hands? Are your feet cold? Do you want music on?”
The monotony can be suffocating
The amount of repetition I do in a day sucks the life out of my brain and that doesn’t even take into account all the repetition I have to listen to. I changed my mom’s bread about three months ago. Every single day since, sometimes twice a day, she’s told me how good this new bread is.
That’s every single day, twice a day, multiplied by 90 days.
She’s also told me repeatedly how much she likes the grey housecoat I bought a year ago and how much she loves the painting that’s been over her bed…for the past seven years.
She wakes up with songs in her head that date back to the 1930’s and asks me if I remember them. She makes references to experiences that I’ve never had with her. She asks me about uncles and aunts who died before she was an adult let alone after I was born.
There was a period of about a year where she spoke frequently about her stepmother who was terrible to her. The memories would cause her distress all over again. But could I get her off the subject? Never. For some reason, her brain will lock onto a thought and not let go for months at a time.
It’s a remarkable mind, but it’s 102 years old
My mom’s mind is remarkable, but it’s 102 years old. She can contribute to, and keep up with, simple conversations. Some days (or, rather, some periods in a day) she can be really bright. She has a terrific sense of humour too, which can catch you completely off guard.
People are always amazed at how sharp she is – and she is, for 102 years old.
What’s interesting is that people don’t realize how much they, themselves, are doing the talking and then walk away marvelling at my mom’s mental acuity. People automatically compensate for her without even realizing it. It’s pretty sweet actually.
I love my mom. I do my best to be gracious when she repeats herself. Oh but it can be mind numbing.
I don’t need advice. I need support
More recently, my mom has been stuck on the notion that some obsolete politician is back in the news. I have no idea how that became lodged into into her mind. But it has and he’s not.
She mentioned it to a friend of mine. Once again I found myself correcting her and, this time, with an underlying tone of impatience. I later explained the tone to my friend. He suggested that, the next time Mom repeats herself, I should pretend it’s the first time I’ve heard it.
So, every time she tells the same story over and over again, in a short period of time, I should just act like I’ve never heard it before. That was the advice.
This is one of the warmest, nicest people I know. All he was trying to do was be helpful. I wanted to kill him.
One day, after a bout of incontinence, I took my mom out for a walk. We met a neighbour who looked at us tenderly and gave me the “you’re so lucky” look. She too is one of the warmest, nicest people I know. She too, I wanted to kill.
I should carry duct tape around to cover the mouths of people who say the wrong things.
I once watched a 30 second awareness video on elder care that came up on my Facebook page. It featured an elderly father walking slowly with a cane alongside a clearly impatient daughter. Scathing comments about the daughter kept showing up below the video. Meanwhile, all I could think was how painfully slow he was walking and how difficult that must have been for her.
My Mom walks five blocks a day. She’s impressive. She really is. But it takes her two hours. You cannot imagine the patience it requires to accompany her. It’s so tedious.
There are many reasons for a caregiver to become impatient. The most poignant is denial. That’s when you get annoyed at a loved one who can’t do the simplest thing because being annoyed is easier than accepting the truth – that the person you love continues to decline.
Have I thought of putting my mom in a home?
Gee, let me see
I’ve had people ask if I ever thought of putting my mom in a home. Well, yes, I have thought of the obvious. But if a caregiver hasn’t done that then there are reasons. For many it’s finances. For others, it’s guilt or sense of obligation.
In my case, she was never expected to live this long. I also could never have imagined all the care it would require. Right now, she has true quality of life. She’s happy. She feels safe and loved. She has beaten all the odds. There’s no way that I want to break her heart at this stage of her life. So, I choose not to.
I once had a friend tell me how she had helped get her dad in a home and how good it was for him despite initial objections. She relayed her story as a parallel to mine in the hopes that I’d take her veiled advice.
In fact, her dad lived alone in a rural area 2,000 miles away from her. She hadn’t lived with him in 40 years and only visited on occasion. They were neither close geographically or emotionally. The only parallel to my situation was that he was old.
Yet, she was trying to give me a teaching moment. By the way, whoever said life is short, never had to listen to advice about situations that are nothing like yours.
In addition, do people actually think that, when you place a parent in a home, all your cares are over? For starters, the decision itself is wrenching. You also have to find a home that suits your parent’s emotional, physical and financial realities. Then, once in the home, you have to schedule regular visits and check up very thoroughly on the staff responsible for her wellbeing.
Surely I’m not the only one who’s read stories of poor management, negligence and mishandled medications? When my mom was in the hospital being treated for pneumonia, the doctors mistakenly put her antipsychotics. It took me three days of alerting over seven residents to this mistake before someone finally realized they were wrong and I was right!
I’ve also been asked if I can get help. Yes, I can. But good help? That’s hard to come by. I had a caregiver who’d stick her gum on the door before entering the house. I had one who nearly took my mom out with wet hair. Another left my mom alone on the balcony when her shift ended and didn’t bother bringing her inside for safety. I had caregivers who didn’t show up or showed up drunk. I also had one who stole.
Fortunately I do have a really good one. Unfortunately, she’s so good that she has a lot of other clients.
I love my mom as she is and I love doing this for her
Don’t get me wrong I love my mom. She’s kind, good-natured, always grateful. She’s joyful and easy to be around. I love being on this journey with her. We have many warm, tender moments, as well as laughs.
In addition, I get to perform acts of love several times a day, every day. I’m grateful.
But I’m not lucky.
So stop it. Stop saying that. When I hear it, I feel annoyed, resentful and, mostly, I feel lonely – a feeling I don’t need more of. My constant companion is not only a 102 year old, but one whose needs far eclipse mine. I’m rarely given a second thought.
I was on the phone once with someone and mentioned that I was getting surgery the next day for a broken wrist. Rather than ask about me, he asked who’d be looking after my mom. It’s astonishing how little I can matter.
Today my mom fell. While people helped her up and made sure she was okay, someone put a hand on my back and rubbed it. I cannot tell you how that restored me.
You’re grieving your loss while denying me of mine
But the deepest loneliness comes from hearing how lucky I am. When you say that, you’re grieving your loss while denying me of mine.
I miss the mom I had. I especially miss her now when I’m going through so much. People have said it’s like having kids. It’s not. Kids flourish. Meanwhile, I live with decline and death. The depression is crushing.
Every morning I open the door to her room and sniff to make sure she didn’t die overnight. Then I walk over to her and check to see if she’s breathing just in case she died in the last few minutes.
I’ve lost paid work and along with this all the social, intellectual and creative stimulation it afforded me. I’ve lost friends who can’t navigate my schedule. I’ve lost my time. I’ve lost the freedom to plan for my future. I have no idea when this will end.
I dread my mom’s death yet there have been so many close calls. I can’t tell you what that constant stress can do to your soul. I also live with the internal conflict of wanting this to be over, done, finished, while at the same time, never wanting it to end. I don’t want her to die.
Right now I miss my mom more than ever
Right now I miss my mom more than ever. I’d love for her to give me a big hug. I’d love for her to tell me that everything will be all right when, of course, it won’t be. Once this journey is over, I’ll not only go through the grief of a daughter who lost her beautiful mother, but I’ll also have to face caregiver’s grief.
That’s the huge emptiness that comes when everything in your life is set up to care for one person and then that person is gone.
So feel free to tell me about your mom and share how much you miss her. But stop telling me I’m lucky. Stop denying my loss and romanticizing my reality.
I had an interview the other day for a position at a startup. I wanted the job for three reasons 1) their product helped others 2) I’d be contributing to the growth of a new company 3) I could work from home.
It had everything I wanted. Better yet, I had everything they wanted.
The headhunter thought I’d be perfect. I’m a content writer. I’m a copywriter. I started out in traditional media, which means that I was trained not to make mistakes. If your billboard has a typo, you can’t just log in and fix it.
All to say – professionally, I’m awesome sauce.
The headhunter also liked my energy. She thought I was upbeat, hardworking and authentic. According to her, “culture fit is everything to this client”, so these qualities boded well for me. I was chosen to move onto the client interview. Yeah me.
Well, as it turns out, awesome sauce I wasn’t. Instead, the client – who was about 18 years younger than me, said the fit wasn’t there, but I was a “nice lady”.
Does that sound like ageism to you? It did to me and it does to other people I’ve spoken to. Perhaps I didn’t get the job for reasons other than my age not being a “culture fit”, but still, those two seemingly benign words – nice lady – hissed volumes.
Do women suffer from ageism in job interviews?
Maybe it was just me, but I don’t think so. According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, there’s “robust evidence of age discrimination in hiring against older women, especially those near retirement age.”
They needed a study for this?
Based on evidence from over 40,000 job applications, they also found that there is “considerably less” evidence of age discrimination against men.
Again, they needed a study for this?
What’s more, startups (especially in the tech industry) are notorious for hiring young staff. I’d share links to support this, but there are so many articles on the subject that I suggest you Google.
That said, here’s an interesting summary from a survey conducted by First Round, a venture capital firm.. In short, it concludes that the tech industry has a bias against older people and women. Clearly being an older female is sooooo not “disruptive”.
Why the bias against older women?
Well, for starters, discrimination against older women is society-wide and culturally ingrained, so it stands to reason that it would seep into the workplace too.
There are some practical reasons like the cost of salaries and benefits. Yet, even though older workers (I’m including men, but keep in mind – it’s worse for women) are perceived to come with high price tags, the fact remains that older workers expect to take pay cuts when they’re looking for work – and they accept that.
About half of older jobless workers – aged 45 to 70 – agree to less pay when they’re rehired. And the longer they’re out of work, the more likely they’ll take a pay cut, according to AARP’s “The long road back”.
There’s also a perception that, if you hire an older worker, they’ll just coast along until retirement. Somehow, sticking with a job is equated to complacency. Yet, young people are notorious for quitting jobs regularly to advance their careers. Poor retention rates are a huge problem for organization – one that could be solved by hiring older workers.
Other reasons that are less practical, more intuitive, seriously damaging, more likely to have been the case with me, and that, I suspect, resonate with other older women – are based on the following perceptions:
Older workers are old school and don’t get excited by new ideas
Older workers are old school and can’t relate to young colleagues
And, last but most important,
It’s like having your Mom hanging out with your friends (a culture “bad” fit).
So what’s a nice lady to do?
I’ve read a few articles for this blog. Many of them suggest using your network to find work or starting your own business (which, as one who’s done that, can take a few years investment to pay off).
For the interview itself, they suggest that you look well put-together, sound enthusiastic, play up your experience and show an interest in new ideas.
I don’t know if I’ll be going on any interviews again. I actually do have a good freelance writing business with clients I really like. I only went on that interview because I loved the idea of building a business and championing a brand that would do the world good.
However, if I do find myself in an interview, I’m going to do the one thing no one has suggested and that is – I’m going to address my age. I’m going to toss it out there like bread to a pigeon and they are going to flock to it. I’ll push the benefits of hiring someone with a lot of experience, at a cut rate, who’ll bring a different perspective and enhance interpersonal skills due to her life experience, and who welcomes the stimulation of people who weren’t influenced by hammer pants and perms. I’ll do it with confidence and a sense of humour too.
Who can resist that?
What’s more, if I go on an interview again knowing that “culture fit” is essential, I’m going to ask, in advance, what that fit entails. That way, if I’m told the “fit” wasn’t there, I can ask specifically where the match didn’t happen rather than allow someone to ever get away with cowardly ambiguity and discrimination.
Anyone else have experiences or suggestions that they’d like to share?
Kim Kardashian posted a nude selfie on Twitter a few weeks ago. Bette Midler saw it and tweeted: If Kim wants us to see a part of her we’ve never seen, she’s gonna have to swallow the camera.
I thought that was pretty clever. Still, it heralded a torrent of reactions. Some criticized Kim, others defended her. International Women’s Day was brought into the subject. Finally Miley Cyrus in her eloquent way whined, “Stop all the cu**tiness”. In an intriguing lack of self-awareness, I think she may have also called everyone tacky.
Eventually the notion of body and slut shaming came up, and finally the shamers were shamed for shaming (isn’t anyone allowed an opinion anymore?).
Here’s the thing, if you post a nude selfie on Twitter to 41.9 million followers, you’ll get a reaction. If you’re using your head, even a little, you’d expect some good and some bad ones. If one is okay, then the other should be too.
More revealing – and provocative – was how this fiasco exposed the complex, often conflicted, relationship we have with our bodies and nudity. Some are empowered by it, others embarrassed. Others feel defenseless.
A few years ago, I considered going to a clothing optional spa. Media and random conversations over the years made me vaguely familiar with the concept. I also associated it to the fun of skinny-dipping as a kid. More importantly, I was at a stage where I had shed my past and changed the direction of my future. It was a purifying time. Somehow, going to a clothing optional spa aligned perfectly. After a lot of research, I chose Living Waters Spa just outside of Palm Springs – the perfect place for a first timer (going by myself I might add!).
It was eye opening to say the least. I arrived at a small, relaxing resort with mineral water pools and beautiful palm trees run by a welcoming couple. There weren’t a lot of people. It was quiet and natural in the truest sense. Despite being a professional writer for nearly 20 years, I truly can’t find the words to express how freeing and uplifting the experience was. Even though a bikini is just two strips of clothing, it’s like wearing a parka next to pure nakedness. What’s more, there was no judgment. I know this because I put my own away. It just wasn’t the place for it.
So, does nudity embarrass me? In that context, it didn’t. Does it empower me? In that context, it left me feeling great – that’s a powerful feeling. Does nudity make me feel vulnerable? Again, in that context, I felt safe, secure and natural in every sense.
However, when I consider nudity in the context of my gender as a whole, and the history of our bodies, my opinion toward nudity shifts dramatically. Our nude bodies have historically been associated to sexuality. For those with bodies that were attractive according to cultural trends, whatever power we gained from that sex appeal was diminished through objectification.
And that’s the least of it.
As women, our bodies have experienced more derogatory and explicit terminology, harassment and violation than men could ever imagine (this is comparative and not meant to diminish the horrors that men have also experienced). In addition, our intellectual and professional value has been denigrated to the point that we aren’t even entitled to the same wages – for the same work – as our male counterparts.
In the context of our gender’s history, nudity has not been our friend. So, with all this, what do I make of Kim’s selfie? She’s an exhibitionist. It’s natural for someone with her tendencies to feel empowered by nudity that’s publicly staged. It’s also okay. But do I – someone who’s enjoyed public nudity herself – support it? Not for second. Two very separate topics have been linked together by this debacle. So let me be clear:
I have no issue with what women do with their bodies. I do take issue with what celebrities do with their celebrity.
I think Kim’s selfie was outrageously irresponsible. It shows an egregious disregard and/or ignorance for both 1) the young women she influences and 2) the potential for life-altering danger she poses to them by her example. I’m not suggesting that because girls worship her that she, in turn, owes them. I am, however, suggesting that anyone so cavalier with all that influence is nothing but a waste of skin.
Kim is surrounded by bodyguards. She’d be safe if she walked nude along Hollywood Boulevard. Did the plight of Amanda Todd escape her? If not then did the plight of Jesse Logan escape her? Or, let’s see, what about the plight of Hope Sitwell? I can appreciate that she likes to make news, but does she ever read it?
I don’t usually follow celebrities, but the story of this selfie and the backlash for both supporters and non-supporters was compelling given the conflict it revealed within our gender. We do, in fact, have a right to do as we wish with our bodies. What’s more, celebrities have a right to do as they wish with their celebrity. But we also have a right to find it objectionable.
The real beauty in all of this came from the wisest female of all, actor and model, Chloe Grace Moretz – who also happens to be just nineteen years old. Still a teenager with a fledging career, she had the courage and maturity to respond to Kim’s nudity with the following:
I truly hope you realize how important setting goals are for young women, teaching them we have so much more to offer than just our bodies.
I’m so impressed and heartened to see so vocal a female coming up behind us and I look forward to witnessing her positive effect.
By the way, do you know how Kim responded to her? With this: “Let’s all welcome @ChloeGMoretz to twitter, since no one knows who she is. Your nylon cover is cute boo.” Good comeback Kim. You’re not just an ass. You’re a dumb ass.
I’d love to hear other opinions on this. It’s a very controversial subject for our gender. Dialogue and debate could help us arrive at a healthy point of view.
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The other day I ran into a neighbor who 1) saw me 2) gasped 3) stared 4) blurted, “Your hair!” then 5) stared some more. Silence does not begin to describe a message quite so loud.
“I chopped it all off”, I said laughingly, ”It’s okay not to like it, you know.”
“No, the cut’s cute”, she said, “but… the gray!”
I didn’t know what I took issue with more: that I’d gone from long, straight brunette hair to a short messy crop and all she could say was “but the grey”, or the fact that I had paid several hundred dollars for what were meant to be streaks of lavender locks intermingled with (said) brown.
However, for the purpose of this blog, I’ll stick with the fact that grey hair (which, again, not to be picky – was a prrreeeetttty fine shade of lavender) would cause a stroke (face dropping, difficulty speaking) in a woman who, like me, is middle-aged.
What’s up with that?
Granted, this is a woman who’s horrified of aging. She maintains her girlish figure by throwing up food. She dyes her roots before they even peek over her cranium. She also injects Botox into her forehead with all the overcompensation of an introvert who injects nervous laughter into a conversation.
Yet, even though she’s immeasurably high on the crazy meter of Gerontophobia (love new words!), she’s not alone. How many of us resist turning grey because it will…dare I say it…age us?
Why is that so bad? When did this happen? How come it’s hip to have silver hair in your 20’s, but old when you’re over 40? Why is old looking equivalent to bad looking? Why is grey more acceptable on men than on women?
Why can’t women age with pride and acceptance from within – and out?
So many questions. So many objections.
I know two women who actually asked their husbands’ permission to go grey. I understand wanting a man’s opinion. I myself tried asking a gay male friend about a hair style I was considering . His answer? A long pause and, “You know I’m not that kind of gay, right?”
Anyway, I can appreciate asking a man, especially your romantic partner, about whether or not he thinks a certain look has sex appeal. But to ask permission and, specifically, to ask permission to be your natural self?
The other day I was at the hair salon getting my lavender hair fixed (okay, fine, maybe it did look grey) when I overheard a middle aged stylist telling his elderly client that her white hair was aging her. Actually it wasn’t. The fact that she was in her 70’s aged her and that’s okay.
Age is okay. The signs of aging are okay. There are some gorgeous greys out there, as well as stunning whites. They won’t age you. What will age you is society’s perception of age, which frankly, is getting old.
Honestly, I myself am not ready for grey yet. I’m not ready for the dignity and maturity – or ageism – that comes with. I love playing with my hair and realized lately that I’ve missed the days where I’d chop, streak, spike and have fun with it. I’m probably too old to being doing this. That is, according to society. According to me, I’m old enough to do what I want.
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As an avid consumer of social media, I saw the recent Jennifer Lawrence scandal go viral. At issue was her behaviour toward a reporter following the Golden Globes. What made mass rounds was a seconds long clip taken out of the context from what was, in fact, a 6 minute press conference. At the gathering, Lawrence’s dry tone had been firmly and graciously set, not to mention well-received by the audience (listen to the laughter). Even if you did view the comment from a negative perspective, let’s face it – at worst, she was peevish.
I was choked up that this outspoken, elegant young woman – who so thoughtfully and courageously crafted a letter about Hollywood’s wage gap between genders – would be blasted for nothing more than voicing an annoyance.
Moreover, she delivered it with the same deadpan tone and humour, she’d been using throughout the entire conference. And, while I’m not a fan of colloquial terms, her use of “bro” also kept it lighthearted. In fact, she was harmless enough that the reporter himself laughed heartily. He then asked her another question, which she answered with sincerity.
Keep in mind, the man had his cell phone up while asking her questions. Instead, she wanted him to speak to her directly to her. Not an unreasonable request and not one delivered in any way that deserves backlash.
But backlash there was.
Who’s being harsh?
That one 52-second clip garnered all kinds of criticism. She’s been called rude, harsh, scolding. Media headlines have pondered “did Jennifer Lawrence go to far”. According to one gossip columnist (who wasn’t there to witness it) Lawrence “made fun of the way he spoke, his cadence. That’s what made it so uncomfortable, the scolding and derision disguised as teasing.”
Um…ooookay…perhaps she hadn’t seen the video either because there was no “making fun of the way he spoke”. That’s pure fabrication.
Her “roasting of a reporter”, “slamming of a reporter” and “telling off of a reporter” also made international news. The UK’s Daily Mail called it an “outburst”. What’s shocking is, if you go back over old reports, they labelled Mel Gibson’s massive meltdown as an anti-semitic “rant”. In other words, using descriptors that essentially make both behaviours comparable.
Even Anne Hathaway was criticized for running to Jennifer’s defense.
In a week where David Bowie, Allan Rickman, Glenn Frey, and Celine Dion’s husband and brother died – this is the news covered by entertainment media?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending Jennifer Lawrence, the celebrity. I’m defending the female. This is my point of contention.
PuffPost’s derogatory language
I was already annoyed about the hype. To my mind, this nonsense wouldn’t have made news had a man behaved the same way. In fact, if it made news at all in that case, I suspect it would have been positively touted as a disarming example of how to handle an irksome reporter. I also don’t think that it would have made news if an older female celebrity had acted the same way. Too late to train the Helen Mirrens of this world. Come to think of it, how great would it have been had some of our more established female celebrities run to her defense?
When did it become alright for mainstream media to boldly and unapologetically use derogatory language toward women – or any group for that matter? The B word may be culturally popular, but it’s still a pejorative. How is this okay? Will the N word become popular? Ummmm probably not. What about the C word? Maybe, I mean, it’s not racist.
Have we become so accustomed to this slur that we’ve lost our outrage?
It was bad enough that Jennifer’s unremarkable behavior made news, but that a media giant would approve the use of that kind of language floored me. “Puffpiece” Post is not so puff when you consider its vast audience and cultural influence. One might argue that the media doesn’t start trends, it leverages them. Perhaps that’s true. But when a cultural trend is picked up by the media, it starts to solidify. From there, a powerful cycle of reciprocity begins.
Does Arianna Huffington really approve of this?
Also, if you have to use * to get it by an editor then consider another word. How does * change the meaning? After all, it’s meaning that’s at issue, not the spelling of the word.
Did you know that there was a show on ABC called “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 C”? It had originally spelled out the entire word, but ABC censored it and the —- was made. Again, how is removing the vowels, but keeping the meaning, any better? Who’s coming up with these “alternatives”.
I have one friend who I playfully use the B word on and this exchange dates back years. It’s between us. Otherwise, it’s a word I use cautiously and certainly wouldn’t use in my writing. Given how it’s actually entered mainstream media and is boldly blasted across a headline, I hope we all become a little more reticent and more protective of our right to respect.
The outrageously unfair Jennifer Lawrence debacle leaves me with three commitments to myself:
I’ll be more vigilant about the derogatory language that blatantly disregards my gender
I’ll have a heightened sensitivity to a woman’s right to express displeasure or a preference
In the case of Jennifer Lawrence, I’ll learn from her diplomacy. I like how she handled that reporter. He clearly meant no disrespect and she treated him accordingly. It was civil, congenial and handled with aplomb by both of them (though not the media!)
On a final note, congratulations to Anne Hathaway for speaking up. I’m impressed. I wish more female celebrities had come to Lawrence’s defense.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear.
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They say you get wiser with age. I’m not sure that wise best describes me. I’d lean more toward “lessons finally learned” and here are three of note: They’re about closure, clarity and Karma.
Closure doesn’t mean you get the last word.
Over the years, I’ve found myself in relationships that ended when I wasn’t ready. Some were professional. Others personal. All were over before I knew it. They felt unfinished. I still had pain to express, questions to ask and actions to defend.
I remember times when I’d replay the final scene in my mind – an exacting director incessantly shouting, “Cut. Let’s try that again.” I’d fuss with the words. Change the protagonist and, finally, create the ending I wanted. That is – had I been given the opportunity for closure.
Then, one day, my notion of closure changed. Suddenly a whole new avenue of insight opened. Here’s what I realized:
When someone says it’s over, it’s over. It’s that simple. It’s that final.
As disempowering as that might be, it’s also empowering. To recognize what is, and what’s isn’t, within your control is freeing. It allows you to focus on reality and rebuilding. It’s been said that, when one door closes, another one opens. I don’t know if that’s true. If it is, yeah closure. For me though, grasping that closure doesn’t require a counterpoint, is positive and liberating enough.
Light casts shadows
Growing up, I had to handle difficulties that caused me to veer off course from what might be called a normal childhood. In doing so, I missed avenues usually laid before us as we mature.
In later years, I found myself crippled by a need to understand experiences I had undergone and the people who were part of them. I wanted to identify wrong turns I had taken – and why – so I could detour if I began turning toward the familiar again. Moving forward, I wanted to find avenues that would make both the journey positive and rewarding.
But it’s hard to find anything in the dark. I needed clarity.
So I explored my childhood. I know, I know, it’s not “au courant” to look back. Goal setting, forward thinking and Anthony Robbins all have their place. However, when your soul is a tangled mess of wrong turns along the only roads you thought existed – and you’re at risk of getting lost forever in the maze – then sometimes going back to the beginning is the best way to get to a better place.
So I did. I’m glad for it. Wrongs were righted. Questions were answered. I was enlightened. The darkness lifted. I could look ahead and see a brighter landscape.
There’s just one thing with clarity – light casts shadows.
Suddenly the brightest memories and people in my life began to dim, some slightly, some deeply. Yet, some not at all. Those were the keepers!
Light also creates contrasts. I began to compare people, experiences, stations in life. It too was painful. But it helped me set standards and define boundaries.
All to say, finding the truth can change how you see everything. So be prepared for the full spectrum.
I was dating a man some years ago who actually broke up with me via email. I’ve since heard this is common, as are text breakups. However, I’m not 20. To me, this isn’t common. It’s cowardly.
A friend of mine was floored. She thought I was so much better than him in the first place (female friends are the best!). After spewing a side-splitting diatribe, she said “he’ll get his karma.”
And that’s when it hit me – Karma was already at play.
In popular usage (admittedly, I’m simplifying a rich spiritual belief), Karma means what goes around will come around. Do good and good will come to you. Do bad and bad will come to you.
But I don’t think it “will”. I think Karma is more immediate than that. Here’s why – if you’re someone who does wrong without basic regard for others, then you’re a dishonourable person. You’re someone I’d never respect and, given my worth (or, rather, self-worth), that’s Karma right there.
I’ve realized that the people who’ve hurt me the most are the people I think the least of – and that’s Karma. That I would prefer to me to them – that’s Karma. That they’d never again be invited into my life – again, Karma.
The reverse is true too – if you’re someone wonderful, then you get me love, respect and loyalty in return. That’s Karma.
So there you have it, when it comes to people’s actions toward me, Karma is immediate and me.
I mentioned early on that I wasn’t sure where I’d go with this blog. Because it’s a personal one, I have an open field. That means, I can bore you with more of these wisdoms (you’ve been warned). It also means that you’re welcome to provide me suggestions and contributions. The blog is for all of us. My hope is to create a community of women who can share opinions, information and insights.
It’s been a long time since anyone asked if I was PMS when I’ve shown anger. When I was younger, people occasionally had the nerve.
Thankfully, as I get older, I’ve never had anyone suggest that my anger is the result of menopause. Then again, I’m pretty sure that’s due to the “not so secret” link between the question, “Are you menopausal” and acts of homicide. I doubt that being older has somehow afforded me the right to display a normal range of human emotions.
It has, however, given me the confidence to do so.
In fact, the other day I was on the phone with a doctor who had left my mother in a hospital bed with no instructions to the nurses regarding her care, meds or next steps. Though my tone was even and measured, I was angry.
“I understand your frustration”, said the doctor. I corrected him and said I’m not frustrated, I’m angry. The conversation progressed and again he said, “I understand your frustration”. Again, I corrected him and said, “I’m not frustrated, I’m angry”.
On yet another occasion, he said “I get that you’re frustrated”. “Angry”, I said, “What I am is angry”.
He laughed uncomfortably. It was his most honest reaction.
I believe men are uncomfortable with women’s anger. They try to temper it with words that package it up more manageably, like “I get your frustration”. They also try to understand it by linking it to hormones – a sound medical cause for what they deem is irrational behaviour.
More significantly, I think women are uncomfortable with women’s anger. We too assign it to hormones. We too diminish it, even deny it, with words like “frustrated” , “upset” and “bothered”.
Uh…okay this is beginning to bother me.
Interesting note: I searched for “women and anger”. Google autofilled my query with “women’s hormones and anger”.
Another interesting note: According to a study by Arizona State University on jury deliberation, men can successfully use anger to influence others, but women lose influence when they allow anger into an argument. I’m not suggesting that this one study and its methods are irrefutable. Still, it’s intriguing.
I watched Alanis Morisette at this year’s AMA’s and was reminded of her rise to fame after Jagged Little Pill. There were so many jabs and jokes about her anger at that time. I made some myself.
I also recall being at a sound studio to produce a radio spot I had written when the engineer stopped everything to play me a funny spoof ad about angry women. It was sung to the tune of “You Oughta Know”.
That song was even labelled as a revenge number yet none of the lyrics speak to that. Rather, they’re angry – pure, pained anger at being dumped and quickly replaced. It was unapologetic and honest. It was healthy and normal. Who hasn’t felt that betrayal and hurt? Yet, I remember the backlash, one to which even I added, and for which I’m sorry.
No. Thank you Alanis for your honesty.
I’ve changed my tune since then. Just a decade or so later, I find myself far less apologetic for my anger, unless of course it – or its manifestation – has been inappropriate.
Truly, as I age, I have a wider breadth of experience, more discerning judgement, greater critical thinking and a freaking awesome command of language (couldn’t help myself!).
I think women have a lot of work to do when it comes to evaluating whether or not their anger is fair. I believe (this is an opinion-based blog) that we doubt and undermine our right to this emotion too often. I know I have in the past. I also know a lot of other women with the same conflict.
I have a friend who’s younger than me. This friend is, and always has been, one of the nicest people you could ever meet. We used to work together in a highly political and stressful environment. She rarely lost her temper. When she did, it was usually justified.
In addition, she never raised her voice or displayed the emotion in an unprofessional way.
Yet, on those rare occasions of anger, she’d feel so insecure and guilty, that she’d have pull me aside to talk it out. Even when I identified very rational points on which she could appreciate just how righteous her emotions were, it would still take an inordinate amount of convincing.
The older she gets, the more comfortable she is with her right to get angry. She even gets mad at me now. She called me a cow a few years ago and still refuses to take it back (soooo off my Christmas card list!).
Personally, I felt very empowered when speaking to that doctor. I knew my tone was strong, but rational. I knew my anger evident, but justified. I felt good when I didn’t allow him to tone it down for his own comfort. I honored my feelings and my right to them.
I can honestly say that I’m not angrier as I grow older. I just show it more. For that reason, I’m actually less angry and have stronger, more genuine relationships with others as a result – including the all-important relationship with myself.
Why temper anger?
Over the years, I’ve learned that appropriate, proportionate anger has purpose. It rights wrongs. It defines boundaries. It establishes confidence, even dominance when necessary. It creates positive change. In short, it can be constructive.
So why temper it?
From now on, I’m making a commitment to myself and other women to evaluate anger fairly. I’ll not get “turned off” when a woman forms a strong opinion, gets outraged, or raises her voice when appropriate. I won’t undercut myself or others when it comes to this constructive and important emotion.
What about you? How’s your relationship with anger? Does it inspire self-doubt and guilt? When you see anger in other women, does it turn you off even when it’s appropriate?
Feel free to express your thoughts. I’m hoping we can create a community of women who share their opinions, advice and information that can help us be truer to ourselves and our gender.
The other day, I was out with my 30-something friend. Julie. and lamented that I have middle-age spread.
“You have what?”, she asked.
“Middle-age spread”, I answered.
“What’s that?”, she asked.
“Middle-age spread”, I answered.
“What’s that?”, she asked again.
“Middle. Age. Spread.” I said at greater volume, slower speed and just the right amount of sarcasm.
“I. Heard. You. “, she said right back, “I just don’t know what it is”.
Once I described it, she redeemed herself briefly by saying, “Well, at least I know what muffin top is”. Then she added, “Because I remember you freaking out at yours”.
(Seriously I need new friends)
Case of the muffin top meltdown
It’s true. I did freak out and it was memorable. I was on my way to meet her that day when, passing a mirror on my way out, I noticed “something” hanging over the top of my pants. Obviously the pants were the problem. So I changed. As it happened, the pants I changed into were problematic as well. Three more pairs of pants and untold numbers of tops later, I realized my clothes were fine. The problem was that my muscles had fallen and couldn’t get up…ever.
I remember reading that aging was liberating. You became stronger, more sure. You swore more and said what was on your mind. You became more radical, less insecure and more vibrant. Firm skin was replaced by solid self-belief. You were mature and free.
Having had a lithe, athletic body my whole life, I didn’t feel liberated in the least. I felt pressured. I felt fat. I felt not ready. I was determined to get rid of that muffin top. Perhaps all those older liberated women had given up. Perhaps, in the words of Janis Joplin, they had “nothing left to lose”.
Me? I still had a youthful body to maintain. I was going exercise more, eat less and forego the wine.
It didn’t work. I’ve always been fairly disciplined with regard to exercise. I don’t eat meat. I hardly know how to cook. I’m not a huge fan of desserts. Nor do I drink a lot of wine (okay fine, but not enough to get fat on).
To add restrictions on an already pretty modest lifestyle in terms of indulgences was not the answer.
Instead, I gave up, but in a good way.
I began to accept. I began to look at myself, my lifestyle and my choices as a whole.
Rather than fuss over my wrinkles, softening skin, extra weight and my tiresome vanity, I took complete stock of myself. I looked at my heart, my talents, my spirit, my courage and my intellect, and then began to measure myself by my standards. I realized that I’m kinda “all that”, you know?
It also occurred to me that I’d never, but ever, include anyone in my circle if they critiqued me over signs of aging.
Somewhere between my muffin top meltdown and expanding waistline, I realized I didn’t have to fight to maintain my youth. In fact, there was nothing I had to fight for. It’s not that freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Freedom’s another word for realizing you have everything you need.
Every morning I used to walk by the second cutest cat ever (mine was the first, but you probably guessed that). I’d stop, speak gently to her and send loving blinks. She was a skittish cat. Still, though she initially ran away, she began to sit sweetly and blink back at me.
One day, a man who lived in the area, saw this exchange and was floored, “She never does that. She always runs away”, he said, “you must have a mother-like quality”.
The second he said that, his face registered panic, his eyes grew big with fear, and he quickly blurted, “I don’t mean that in a bad way”.
Bad way? When did having a nurturing quality become bad? When did calling someone mother-like become offensive – so offensive, in fact, that some poor schlep would fear retribution?
I’ve been called many things. “Mother-like” is not one of them. Those who know me might say it was inaccurate…okay, fine, many who know me would say it was inaccurate, but still, it was a great compliment.
How could it be anything but?
Moms are our first love.
My grandfather used to say,”The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” It was a quote taken from a poem written in 1865 by William Ross Wallace that praises the role of mothers and the power they wield in shaping our world.
What happened to that celebration? What happened to that regard? When did soccer mom, mom jeans, stage mothers and mom mini vans – become parodies of women’s noble qualities and contributions.
When researching this blog I also discovered Tiger Moms (too strict) and Snowplow Moms (they ensure that nothing stands in the way of their child’s success). Even Super Moms, once defined as Moms with thriving careers, perfect children and positive attitudes, are now being shamed as harried failures.
And don’t get me started on the stereotypes of mothers-in-law and stepmothers. Not to mention the fact that a Daddy’s Girl is awesome, but a Momma’s Boy?
Oh come on, give Moms a break. Moms loved us first and gave us our first home, our first sanctuary.
The persecuted Mom.
I’m not entirely sure how society has come to this. To my mind (this is all opinion based), there was a time when we didn’t have media to pick up on differences and tendencies, then create trends from them that and, in their predominance, create a skewed perception of norms.
Instead, men and women had roles of equal importance. Men brought home the money and women brought up the children. Actually, women’s roles were more important.
Fast forward (admittedly a lot and simplifying a sociologically complex subject) to a time when media went from print to radio to TV and had wider and wider reach.
What’s more, media was run primarily by men. This isn’t an anti-male jab, by the way. Given their years in business, men naturally held the biggest positions in media and owned businesses that fuelled ad dollars. This, I feel, resulted in shows and advertising that were heavily male influenced, as were the depictions of women in these shows.
Moms in particular.
For the longest time, Moms were chipper, stay-at-home ladies in heels. They moved into a working Mom phase where they (inexplicably) kept it all together while maintaining that “Mom” safety and wisdom. Moms were never especially young (most were around 40 years old), nor were they sexy.
However, most were very likeable.
I loved every TV Mom from Carol Brady to Claire Huxtable to Shirley Partridge to my very favorite ever, Lorelai Gilmore.
Now, however, we’re exposed to everything from Allison Janney’s self-centred recovering coke addict to Julia Bowen’s basket case who’s entire body looks like it’s in a constant state of electrocution.Worse yet, we also have women like Mama June and Kris Jenner taking up a lot of TV time – thank you pop culture.
Curious about the causes, but serious about the solution.
Somewhere along the line I suspect a few things happened somewhat simultaneously (again I’m simplifying):
Women began having a greater voice in, and to, the media. This resulted in a less sanitized version of mothers, but sadly, a more exaggerated one.
Whether chipper or anxious and troubled, mothers have rarely been portrayed as sexual. They were the ones looking after children, after all.
Women have been having children later in life so not only aren’t they sexy, they’re also not young, nor do they tend to be carefree and submissive.
Youth and sexuality grew remarkably in value, and if you look at the expressions of young models, submission is hot.
So, over the years, young, sexy women have been celebrated, which in turn has set standards of appeal that Moms can rarely attain (not that they should!) – especially today’s Moms.
There are now more and more frazzled working women over 40 with children and teens in tow who have inordinate responsibilities. It’s not sexy. It’s also not fair to expect that it would be.
Again, I’m not sure how Moms have become fair game for disrespect and potshots. Is it because of a male dominated culture that celebrates youth and sexiness? Is it that women now have earning power and we’re a threat to the power structure? Could it have absolutely nothing to do with men and we can’t use them as scapegoats for our lack of self-esteem?
Does it even matter how we’ve arrived here when what matters is making it stop?
I think we need to be aware of the unfair portrayals and take a more critical approach to how we perceive them and ourselves. For instance, is the Mom being portrayed on a sitcom actually a mess or is she justifiably having difficulty keeping it together?
The more aware we are, the better we’ll be at reframing the message these negative portrayals deliver, and the better we’ll be at preventing their destructive effect on our psyches. It’ll be better for men too. The next time a positive, well-meaning guy says “you’re Mom-like”, he might not fear the wrath of womankind.